East London borough accused of criminal offences for failing to remove Palestinian flags

Solicitors claim the flags 'intimidate Jewish people and may encourage violence against them'

A Palestinian flag during a National March for Palestine in central London on December 9, 2023. AFP
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Solicitors have written to the Metropolitan Police over the proliferation of Palestinian flags in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, accusing it of “criminal offences”.

Flags, posters and stickers are placed throughout the borough, some of which are said to contain inflammatory messages.

The borough’s Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, was previously barred from public office for five years for corruption, but was voted back into the post in elections in May 2022 after serving the ban.

Tower Hamlets has one of largest proportions of Muslims of any local authority in the UK and widely supports Mr Rahman.

He set up a new party that defeated the Labour incumbent.

Now a group of solicitors who support Israel has written to the Met Police asking it to intervene.

It is alleged that the council is in breach of planning laws in allowing the flags to remain in place.

Solicitors are also calling for the council should to do more to remove potentially incendiary stickers proclaiming “Victory to the Intifada” and other messages.

“Our attention has been drawn to serious concerns on the part of Jewish residents of Tower Hamlets regarding the proliferation of large Palestine flags on lamp-posts in public streets as well as posters and stickers with inflammatory content,” Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, said in the letter to police.

“These displays intimidate Jewish people and may encourage violence against them.”

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Under section 224(4)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act, the owner or occupier of the land on which the flags, posters and stickers are displayed is liable for criminal offences once it knows of their display, unless it takes all reasonable steps to secure their removal.

“We believe that many of the flags, posters and stickers are displayed on land owned or occupied by Tower Hamlets council,” Mr Turner wrote.

“The council has not taken all reasonable steps to secure the removal of flags, posters and stickers on its land and therefore has committed and is committing criminal offences."

Under the terms of the Act, where an offence is committed by a corporate body, the council officer in charge could also be guilty of an offence.

“It appears that the Mayor of Tower Hamlets has neglected to ensure the removal of the flags, posters and stickers,” the letter said.

“Accordingly, both the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and the council appear to be guilty of multiple criminal offences in this matter.”

David Brandes, minister for the congregation of Jacob Synagogue in Tower Hamlets, said: “In spite of the intimidation felt by Christians, Muslims, Jewish people and others, the local authority and police have not taken into account the concerns of the public in Tower Hamlets."

But a spokjesman for the council said: “As one of the most diverse areas in the country, we are monitoring any community tensions closely with our tension monitoring group, which includes the police and representatives from a broad range of community organisations.

“A number of Palestinian flags have been put up by the public in recent months.

"While we appreciate people want to express their support for Palestine, we have a routine responsibility to monitor and maintain council infrastructure. The situation is under regular review.

“Separately to Palestinian flags, the council will remove at the earliest opportunity any graffiti, posters or flags which are racist or generally offensive.

“We are not aware of any criminal offences related to Palestinian flags not being removed, and we will continue to work closely with police partners to manage the situation.”

Updated: January 08, 2024, 5:31 AM